Back in Tōkyō, the festive pine ornaments had all been cleared away. A cold wind scoured the streets. Signs of the New Year were few and far between.
Without delay, I called on Sensei to return the money I'd borrowed. I also took with me the dried mushrooms from home. Uncomfortable simply handing them to Sensei's wife, I explained first that my mother had prepared them for me to bring as a gift. They were packed in a new cake box. Sensei's wife received them with due ceremony. She picked up the box to take it into the next room and, perhaps surprised at its lightness, asked what sort of cakes they were. Sensei's wife, once one came to know her, would sometimes display this overtly candid and child-like spirit.
The two of them, concerned for my father's health, asked various questions about his illness. Finally Sensei said, "From what you've told us, it seems he's not in immediate danger. Be careful, though. You mustn't drop your guard."
Sensei knew much more about kidney conditions than I did.
"The thing about kidney disease is that the afflicted party can often be blissfully ignorant. I know of a military officer who succumbed to it. His death was completely unexpected. His wife, who was sleeping at his side, didn't even have the chance to tend to him. He woke her once in the night, saying he felt a bit out of sorts, and the next morning he was gone. According to his wife, she'd thought he was still sleeping."
The optimism I'd been feeling quickly faded.